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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Seducer

by
Jan Kjærstad


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Seducer



Title: The Seducer
Author: Jan Kjærstad
Genre: Novel
Written: 1993 (2003)
Length: 608 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: The Seducer - US
The Seducer - UK
The Seducer - Canada
Der Verführer - Deutschland
  • Norwegian title: Forføreren
  • Translated by Barbara J. Haveland
  • Volume I of the Wergeland-trilogy

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Our Assessment:

A- : enjoyable, meandering life-story

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Aftenposten . 3/8/1993 Geir Uthaug
The Guardian . 17/1/2004 Julian Evans
The Independent A+ 27/2/2004 Anna Paterson
The LA Times . 11/6/2006 Susan Salter Reynolds
The NY Times Book Rev. . 20/8/2006 Andrew Santella
TLS . 5/3/2004 Joanna Kavenna
Die Welt A+ 10/4/1999 Jan Groh
Die Zeit A (21/1999) Jan Bürger


  Review Consensus:

  Not quite a consensus, but generally very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite the aura of postmodernism in which The Seducer is bathed, the book to which it might be compared is Tom Jones, the pioneering novel of male sexual comedy. (...) This vaunting of his subject by the narrator is continuous, and wearing. There exists novelistically (as Henry Fielding demonstrated 250 years ago) such a thing as an equation of sympathy that says, briefly, that high levels of endowment are not to be deployed selfishly." - Julian Evans, The Guardian

  • "The Seducer succeeds at being a great work of fiction, and a terrific read. (...) Kjaerstad is a compelling storyteller, who ties plots and images into an interlocking whole. He speaks of tales retold in patterns of oriental rugs and likes using themes from myths of the East, especially Shahrazad's 1,001 life-saving stories." - Anna Paterson, The Independent

  • "Kjaerstad's main character in this fascinating, irritating, thought-provoking novel is Jonas Wergeland. (...) The Seducer's first-person narrator is an ingratiating, omniscient observer of Wergeland's existence, who apologizes profusely for his many digressions; the narration, annoyingly, shifts into the second person for the chapters in which Wergeland is actually in the present, in the living room -- a shift that is undoubtedly meant to make readers feel as though they inhabit Wergeland's skin." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Veering from the broadly comic to the beautifully sad, with detours for deadpan meditations on the "Norwegian national character," this book is not just big (606 pages) but big-hearted." - Andrew Santella, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Kjaerstad's Norwegian prose is more controlled than Bjorneboe's; where Bjorneboe might rant, Kjaerstad whispers to his reader, yet their obsessions are markedly similar: the hypocrisy and conservatism of closed communities, the stifling force of convention. Barbara J. Haveland's excellent translation preserves the conspiratorial directness of Kjaerstad's Norwegian. (...) The laborious insertion of theoretically accredited elements, as if the author were checking a list of compulsory postmodern devices, detracts from the portrait. Jan Kjaerstad is a writer of verve and elegance; it is ironic that in a novel so alert to the fleeting nature of generally held truths, he has chosen to hamper his prose with the fleeting fashion of literary postmodernism." - Joanna Kavenna, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Zauberhaft plastisch sind die einzelnen Dokumentationen entworfen. Wörter schaffen Kameraeinstellungen, aus denen wiederum Wörter zu gerinnen scheinen, immer neue Geschichten, die in ihrer Gesamtheit den norwegischen (und jeden) Nationalchauvinismus ebenso karikieren, wie sie ihn ernst nehmen und als Minderwertigkeitskomplex enttarnen. Grandios ist das Panorama, das Jan Kjærstad entfaltet, unendlich reich an Details, skurrilen Einfällen und großen Linien, ein norwegisches Nationalepos des vergangenen Jahrhundertdrittels." - Jan Groh, Die Welt

  • "Der Verführer ist ein Angriff gegen den miefigen Realismus der Fernsehfilme und literarischen Massenware. Das enge Norwegen verwandelt sich in Kjærstads Roman in einen grenzenlosen literarischen Assoziationsraum, einen Mikrokosmos, in dem die ganze Welt potentiell enthalten ist. Und Jonas ist kein singulärer Charakter, sondern viele Individuen auf einmal" - Jan Bürger, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Seducer is the first volume in a trilogy about Norwegian TV celebrity, Jonas Wergeland. It begins almost -- but not quite -- with a bang: arriving back home from a trip to the World's Fair in Seville, he finds his wife dead on the floor, a Luger nearby pointing to murder.
       It's a devastating blow to Jonas, but Kjaerstad takes his time in letting it sink in: the narrator returns repeatedly to these moments of Jonas' return and his actions afterwards, but by the end of the long novel he's only gotten so far as to pick up the phone and call for help. The bulk of the novel is biography, leading to this day, describing everything from Jonas' childhood to his TV successes, with any number of (mis)adventures along the way.
       The book is episodic, the fairly short chapters recounting significant events from his life -- and rhetorically asking frequently (and, yes, somewhat irritatingly): "Is this the most crucial story in Jonas Wergeland's life ?" --, but the presentation throughout is quite roundabout: chapters alternate, his childhood described in one, episodes from later in life in the next, chapters cutting off mid-adventure, only to continue three or four chapters later. It's a fairly complicated tapestry, but surprisingly effortlessly woven: underlying it all is a general progression, from childhood to the present, and despite the tangents (often presented out of sequence) one doesn't lose track or become too confused. By setting some of it in the present, it is also all the while clear what has become of Jonas
       Jonas is a larger than life figure, oddly talented and blessed. He has good instincts, recognising great art, knowing how to present the material for his TV programme, and if some this is almost too precious and/or verging on the ridiculous -- do we really need yet another protagonist with a "magic penis" ? -- Kjærstad presents it with the proper aplomb, making Jonas an intriguing and appealing enough figure that the reader is willing to put up with the more far-fetched bits of the novel.
       Jonas is a very public figure, and the book is presented, in part, to counter the myths surrounding the man -- yet it becomes very much a counter-myth itself: the public image may be built up on half-lies and limited information, but this largely idealized version, focussing on the significant events in his life, does not give a complete picture either. Jonas remains an enigmatic figure, as much is left unrevealed (including what many of the lies told about him might be). Adding to the air of mystery is the hidden narrator, who only occasionally makes the reader aware of his presence, trying not to intrude on the text, and yet reminding readers now and again that he is there. Among the few facts he reveals is that he is not Norwegian (arguing that this offers him a better perspective on the subject).
       Jonas was never much of a reader, but books and art do play a role in his life, including in helping to finance his adventures (his good eye is responsible for a fabulous art collection, and luck finds him with a hoard of valuable books). But while he does not find inspiration first-hand, others' influence clearly has a strong effect: from his father, the organist, to the actor Gabriel, who reminds him: "I'm telling you, Jonas: use your imagination." Jonas does have vision, but mostly he strays into success and experience. Only eventually does he find the proper medium, television, but when he does his show, Thinking Big, becomes a phenomenal success.
       The show crops up repeatedly throughout the novel. Each episode focusses on a famous (or forgotten) Norwegian, Jonas' take firing up the imagination and passion of the viewers of his programme. This nation-sweeping enthusiasm is difficult to convincingly convey, but Kjaerstad does a reasonable job.
       Exoticism also crops up all over, from Jonas' taking up the cause of the Comoros Islands in his student days (to some effect -- though Kjaerstad realistically lets his commitment fade quite quickly) to travels everywhere from China to Timbuktu to Israel to Zambia. These tend to be surprisingly quickly related -- at least it seems that way, in comparison to how the book lingers over what one might consider smaller and more domestic scenes -- making for an odd effect, the exotic scenes occasionally just seeming added for the sake of exoticism. Very much a book fixed on Norway (even abroad, Jonas finds many connexions to Norway), here too the focus shifts a great deal, with hints of matters of national import -- in the early 1970s: "The foundations of Norway the oil nation were being laid without anyone asking the Norwegian people" -- that the book then quickly strays away from again. (As the first book in a trilogy, the general sense is generally very much of a foundation being laid; still, in parts its laid very thinly.)
       The women in Jonas life, from his dead wife (whom he first met in a nice head-on scene) to his sister Rakel (who at fifteen explained the facts of life to her brothers -- then eight and nine -- in the most direct and graphic manner) and his other girlfriends, are a particularly successful set of characters, in part also because they are among the more well-developed. An interesting omission is Jonas' daughter, who rates barely a mention (with the narrator explicitly pointing this out, it a conscious choice to essentially ignore her in this account); again, one can expect more in the trilogy-volumes to follow.
       Kjaerstad does try too hard to make The Seducer as grand an adventure-filled epic as he possibly can; occasional restraint likely would have made its overall effect more powerful. There are almost too many fantastic events, and Jonas is in some ways too good to be true. But the rich and slightly eccentric cast of characters and the sheer vitality of the writing make for a consistently entertaining ride, with barely a lull.
       Enjoyable -- and leaves one looking forward to the next volumes in the series.

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Links:

The Seducer: Reviews: Jan Kjaerstad: Other books by Jan Kjaerstad under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Jan Kjærstad was born in 1953.

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© 2005-2008 the complete review

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